Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Northern Ireland 1 - Portugal 1; Russia 1 - Azerbaijan 0; Israel 3 - Luxembourg 0

Moscow was the locale for Russia's match for the second time in five days as Azerbaijan paid a visit to the Group F leaders.  Russia were completely dominant the whole match, but Azerbaijan were resolute in their defensive third for the full ninety minutes.  Alexander Kerzhakov took a pass into the box from Alexander Kokorin, but Russia's potential opener curled onto the top of the crossbar and nothing more.  Kerzhakov had a free kick opportunity from twenty-two yards soon thereafter, but the woodwork was struck this time only after Azerbaijan goalkeeper Kamran Agayev tipped the shot.  In spite of myriad chances for Russia, they went into the locker room tied at zero goals apiece.

The two teams came out of the break, but the story did not change.  An Igor Denisov swerving ball was turned goalward on the fly by Roman Shirokov, but Agayev used his legs to block the near post and save Azerbaijan yet again.  Russian appeals for a penalty were waved away on what appeared to be a valid shout for a foul in the box, but a few minutes later Russia did receive a penalty when Vladimir Bystrov was taken down on what appeared to be a foul just outside the box.  Either way, Russia deserved to be at the penalty spot once in the final ten minutes, and Shirokov finished to give Russia the lead with six minutes left.  Russia win 1-0 and remain alone atop Group F.

Tel Aviv was the site of the return match as hosts Israel took on Luxembourg for the second time in a five-day span.  Israel won 6-0 in the first match and took only a dozen minutes to reopen the scoring today.  Bebras Natcho send a nice ball forward that took care of one Luxembourg defender.  Tomer Hemed's first touch took care of the second defender; Hemed's second touch took care of the goalkeeper near post to give Israel a 1-0 lead.  A supremely confident Israel side were toying around with the Luxembourg defense.  Eden Ben Besat beat a very high line to latch onto a ball.  Ben Basat then made an audacious chip off a half-volley from nineteen yards.  The ball looked to be in orbit before it came safely to the ground inside the goal. Israel led 2-0 at halftime.

An Elad Gabay cross was knocked home by a Hemed diving header in the opening minutes of the second period as Israel put the match to bed.  Hemed scored his fifth goal in the two-game series with Luxembourg on the play.  Israel cooled the jets and coasted to the finish.  In stoppage time, Luxembourg nearly had a goal when late substitute Tom Laterza gathered and fired on the spin inside the box, but Dekel Keinan headed the well-hit shot over the crossbar to clear the lines for the home side.  Israel win 3-0.

A match in Porto was supposed to be just what the doctor ordered for hosts Portugal as they sought to erase the memory of losing in Russia on Friday.  The celebration of superstar winger Cristiano Ronaldo's one hundredth cap was the focus of the prematch ceremony, but visiting Northern Ireland were none too keen to simply make up the numbers as a historical footnote.  The visitors held tough for a half hour before capitalizing on a turnover in the midfield.  Jonny Evans stepped up to make and interception and carried the ball many yards before knocking the ball upfield to Kyle Lafferty.  Lafferty drew all the defenders to his side, so he had an easy slotted pass to play to Niall McGinn who finished with his first international goal to give Northern Ireland a shock 1-0 lead in the rain.  Craig Cathcart nearly turned the ball into his own net six minutes on, but luckily for him the ball connected flush with the crossbar and bounced out so quickly that Ronaldo had no time to react to the ball coming his way and therefore could not score the equalizer.

In the second half, Portugal winger Nani slotted a cross along the ground to Ronaldo for a one-time shot, but Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll made a kick save to safety.  Portugal were the much stronger side in the second period, and their persistence paid off with just over ten minutes left in the match.  A Bruno Alves cross to the far post was headed back to the six-yard box by Eder.  The ball was mishit by Nani, but thankfully for Portugal Helder Postiga (pictured, red) was there to complete the goal with a turnaround finish.  Portugal nearly had the winner in stoppage time when a great cross was whipped in by Silvestre Varela that was on route to an Eder tap-in, but Evans got a touch to the ball to skip it over Eder's leg.  Northern Ireland survive the onslaught and draw 1-1 on the road.

Russia 12 pts +8
Israel 7 pts +5
Portugal 7 pts +3
N. Ireland 2 pts -2
Azerbaijan 1 pts -4
Luxembourg 1 pts -10

Roman Shirokov 84 PK

Tomer Hemed 13, 48
Eden Ben Besat 35

Northern Ireland
Niall McGinn 30

Helder Postiga 79

Match Reports:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nju3rFXuulQ (Russia v. Azerbaijan)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwV8r10WE9w (Israel v. Luxembourg)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjIca2uFtKI (Northern Ireland v. Portugal)

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